Feb 24, 2010

Water summit

Is Pakistan ready for negotiations?

Since climate change and population growth will exacerbate

sanitation and water crises, support must be provided to communities

By Irfan Mufti

The first Annual High Level Meeting (HLM) on sanitation and water will be hosted by Unicef in Washington on April 23, 2010, bringing ministers together from North and South to take concerted action to tackle the global sanitation and water crisis. The meeting will be an opportunity to reverse the political and financial neglect of a crisis that is undermining all progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It will provide a forum for mutual accountability, for reaching consensus on the key challenges blocking progress, and for agreeing and reviewing key policy or financing actions.

The meeting will be attended by finance ministers and ministers responsible for water and sanitation from developing countries, as well as finance ministers from donor countries. It is expected that ministers will deliver strong political statements, but more importantly will need to deliver tangible actions that deliver real progress towards achieving sanitation and water for all.

As the platform will provide an opportunity for representatives of southern countries to raise their voice on issues of water and sanitation facing these countries, thus a proper preparation is needed. These ministers should, if possible jointly, make sure that the meeting should reach a concrete action plan. They must ensure that ‘no credible national plan will fail through a lack of finance’, beginning with extra support to develop and implement national plans in at least 15 pilot developing countries.

There must be a political statement, signed by all attendees, recognising that progress in tackling the sanitation and water crisis would also drive progress, improving child survival, increasing girls’ education, strengthening economic growth and reducing poverty. The forum should also recognise that access to sanitation and water is a fundamental human right. The countries and donor must also accept that progress has been critically slowed by a lack of political priority given to the sector, weaknesses in national capacities, insufficient and poorly targeted finance, and the absence of a global platform where issues in the sector can be addressed.

Despite challenges of resource and unavailability of external technical assistance, some countries have made genuine progress and developing countries like Pakistan need to learn from and build on their experiences. Case studies of those countries will be presented in the meeting, thus opening space for debate and learning on those successful models. There is a realisation that climate change and population growth will exacerbate the sanitation and water crises, and that financial and technical adaptation support must be provided to governments and communities in areas of increased water stress. Developing countries can present strong case for such adaptation support from developed countries to achieve better results for future plans.

At this point, it is very important that developed countries and donors must also make clear and time-bound commitments to act to fulfill existing agreements, including the eThekwini Declaration, the African Union’s Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement, SACOSAN’s Delhi Declaration, the European Union’s Agenda for Action on the MDGs and various G8 commitments. They must also show clear actions to implement the aid effectiveness principles enshrined in the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.

The meeting will also be a platform to make donors realise that most of the problems third world is facing is due to their lack of action and must provide a political commitment, and additional resources, to ensure that ‘no credible national sanitation and water plan will fail through a lack of finance’. As a first step, donors and national governments should form agreements in 7-10 pilot countries to develop credible national plans.

Countries like Pakistan can also present clear action proposals that donors and national governments must form agreements in 10-15 pilot countries to implement existing national plans. Such focus can help develop good replicable models of water preservations. Pakistan with serious conditions of drought and water scarcity can present itself in the pilot country list.

In the process of negotiations and binding agreements within developed countries, donors and some of the hard-hit southern countries civil society organisations can be fully and meaningfully involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of national plans. Unfortunately, neither government nor civil society groups in Pakistan are fully prepared to act meaningfully and negotiate on these terms. A better prepared and fully informed representation from countries like Pakistan is very essential to obtain desired results.

In the last few decades donors have supported water management and preservation projects in Pakistan. However, there has been a decreasing trend of such support coming from outside. Most of these water related projects in Pakistan were either stopped half way or not fully launched owing to lack of financial support.

There is a realisation at global level that civil society groups and media can also support government efforts to develop commonly agreed frameworks, at the national level, for monitoring sector performance, evaluating interventions and holding government and service providers accountable.

The conference will also refocus investment towards low-income countries and marginalised groups. It is, however, important that governments of developing countries should commit to significantly increasing the level of public expenditure dedicated to the sector, with at least half going to sanitation and hygiene. For African and Asian countries, this will include meeting the commitments made in the eThekwini Declaration to invest at least 0.5 percent of GDP in sanitation and hygiene education.

Governments from developing countries also need to ensure particular attention will be given to targeting services towards marginalised groups, and those in vulnerable situations, including women, children, older people, people living with HIV and AIDS, people with disabilities, people living in informal urban settlements, and other socially excluded groups.

It will be important that commitments made at the High-Level Meeting must be subject to a monitoring process, with civil society participation, and parties must be held accountable. Several developing countries and leading global networks and organisations working on water and sanitation will form lobby groups to negotiate and influence the process and agreements of Washington meeting.

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